News / Asia

Cambodia Takes First Step in Connecting Regional Railways

Riding the rails in western Cambodia: The driver of a "flying carpet" and her passenger head west towards the town of Pursat in central Cambodia along the buckled line in late October, closely followed by another flying carpet. This line will be upgraded
Riding the rails in western Cambodia: The driver of a "flying carpet" and her passenger head west towards the town of Pursat in central Cambodia along the buckled line in late October, closely followed by another flying carpet. This line will be upgraded
TEXT SIZE - +
Robert Carmichael

Trains have started running on a stretch of Cambodia's once-defunct railway. The news marks the first time in years that trains have run commercially in the country, and moves the dream of a pan-Asian railway much closer.

Decades of conflict shattered Cambodia's infrastructure - its roads, ports and railways.

In recent years some of those assets have been rebuilt, and last Friday at Phnom Penh's railway station, the finance minister presided over a ceremony to mark the resumption of the rail service.

Rebuilding Cambodia's infrastructure

Cambodia's rail network has long been the missing link in the dream to connect Singapore by rail to Vietnam and China, and ultimately to Europe.

War and neglect meant that what remained of Cambodia's 600 kilometers of rail system was in such poor condition that the last rackety trains were reduced to crawling along buckled tracks at five kilometers an hour.

Rebuilding the network will cost $142 million, the bulk of that financed with a loan from the Asian Development Bank. Much of the rest is funded by the Australian government and Phnom Penh.

Putu Kamayana, the ADB's country head in Cambodia, predicts that Cambodia's decision to award a 30-year railway concession to an Australian company, Toll Holdings, will pay long-term dividends in more areas than just rail services.

"That's a very big step and a very bold step by the government, but certainly by also improving the transport infrastructure it will improve ultimately Cambodia's competitiveness in the global economy and promote foreign direct investment into Cambodia," he said.

Last Wednesday, Toll's local subsidiary, Toll Royal Railway, took journalists on a refurbished passenger train from Phnom Penh to the town of Takeo, some 50 kilometers south of the capital.

Toll Royal Railway Chief Executive David Kerr was on the trip.

Currently most of Cambodia's freight moves by road. Kerr makes it clear the new rail service will aim to take freight off the roads and put it on the less polluting rail network.

"There's certainly a train a day in cement alone, so there's a significant amount of cement in Cambodia. And then linking in with the ship calls - the feeder services to China, America and via Singapore. And so we'll develop our strategies in cooperation with the shipping lines to develop that service," Kerr says, "There's large volumes of salt that move through Cambodia, as well as domestic and export rice, as well as sugar cane.

One benefit will be that the country's roads will likely become safer and last longer. And Kerr says the rail service has already cut road freight rates by one-fifth.

But since freight is where the money is, regular passenger services might not ever resume.

Upgrade to a passenger service


Toll's first step was to improve a 110-kilometer stretch of track that runs south of the capital to the town of Touk Meas. That is the stretch that opened last week. The next piece of track, running 140 kilometers from Touk Meas to Sihanoukville port, is slated for completion in May.

A train moves out of Phnom Penh along the refurbished line running south to the town of Touk Meas in late October. The homes of people living alongside the track will be demolished in due course.
A train moves out of Phnom Penh along the refurbished line running south to the town of Touk Meas in late October. The homes of people living alongside the track will be demolished in due course.

Once that is done, Toll will start to upgrade the 390 kilometers of line that runs west out of Phnom Penh via Battambang before entering Thailand. That is to be done in 2012.

After that the only gap on the pan-Asian railway will be the section between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. The two governments have agreed to construct the link, but work has not yet started.

Any large infrastructure project generates winners and losers. Here the losers include the local entrepreneurs who run informal railway services on short stretches of the buckled line in western Cambodia.

Their machines are known as norries, or "flying carpets," and are easily visualized - think of a large bamboo bed laid on top of two sets of steel wheels.

Passengers sit on this bamboo bed with their luggage. There are no seats and no sides, and the flying carpet, powered by a small engine, can scurry along the line at 40 kilometers an hour.

It takes only one minute to disassemble a flying carpet. That is just as well since when two of them meet on this single track, etiquette demands that the driver carrying the lighter load dismantle his flying carpet to let the heavier vehicle pass.

Prak Phea has worked this stretch outside Pursat town, about 200 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, for 16 years, and earns up to $50 a week. He knows about the rail upgrade, but has not yet decided what he will do next year for work.

The rules of the infrastructure upgrade mean that anyone affected must be compensated. An annoyed Prak Phea says most of the norrie drivers in other towns were paid $250 each, but just four of the 15 on his stretch of line got anything since they were not told when or how to register.

He says that when people came to register them, he was in Pursat. So he missed the chance and did not register, and that means he will not get compensated.

The ADB's Putu Kamayana promises the bank will take that up with the government.

For the next 12 months, however, Prak Phea can carry on earning a living on this battered stretch of line.

But as surely as the whistles of the freight trains leaving Phnom Penh signal the rebirth of a proper rail service for Cambodia, they also sound the death knell for two decades of flying carpets.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid